Many Illinois farmers, including myself, are eagerly waiting to see how this year’s crop turns out. That’s the name of the game when it comes to farming: You make the best management decisions you can, learn from previous harvests and look to improve next year’s results.

Farmers use a similar approach when conserving natural resources.

Protecting our nation’s water supply and improving soil health are top priorities for farmers. The food we grow is shared with our families, friends and neighbors. That is why farmers across the state are collaborating to find long-term solutions that have a positive environmental impact.

The Agricultural Nutrient Policy Council (ANPC), which Illinois Farm Bureau is part of, in August reported that Illinois farmers’ soil and water conservation efforts are making meaningful progress. For example, farmer efforts, in combination with the work of others across the country, are helping to reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hypoxia areas, or “Dead Zones,” are caused by excess nutrients flowing from sewage treatment plants, oil refineries, agriculture fields and urban areas, into lakes and rivers. The excess accumulation of nutrients can cause algae blooms to grow in large bodies of water, reducing oxygen levels needed to support aquatic plants and animals.

Earlier this summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone shrunk from a five-year average of 5,541 square miles in 2014 to 4,280 square miles in 2022. This difference of more than 1,000 square miles was made possible by collaborative efforts between states.

In Illinois, the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) is a guide to support nationwide efforts to keep nutrients in the soil from trickling out of the state. The strategy, released in July 2015 by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, calls for wastewater treatment plants, urban and agricultural areas to reduce the state’s phosphorous load by 25% and its nitrate-nitrogen load by 15% by 2025. The eventual target is a 45% reduction in the loss of these nutrients to the Mississippi River.

Farmers continue to work toward Illinois NLRS goals by improving water quality and soil health on their farms. To do this, we use measures that protect the environment, keeping soil in place using cover crops between seasons and limiting fertilizer applications to include only what the crop needs.

In June, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ and U.S. Geological Survey reported that reduced sediment and total phosphorus concentrations are leading to clearer water in most parts of the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers. This 15-year update demonstrates the significant progress toward improving the biodiversity within Illinois river systems, which ultimately improves water quality as it moves into other bodies of water.

Reducing nutrient loss and protecting our water quality requires a multi-year effort from farmers across the nation. These recent findings show that the hard work and dedication to conservation practices are having meaningful, positive impacts. It is my hope that farmers and the scientific community can continue this necessary and important work to provide healthy water and soil for all generations to come.

Richard Guebert Jr. is president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. This column was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit


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